About Meg Harper

Meg is a research engineer at SERC and a graduate of the Energy, Technology and Policy program at Humboldt State University, where she studied the technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of renewable energy and energy efficiency development. Within this broad context, and with complimentary studies toward a second bachelor’s degree in Environmental Resources Engineering, she has been able to explore local and state-level energy efficiency and climate change policy, the technical design of solar thermal, wind and PV systems, and appropriate technology design and dissemination for international development. At SERC, Meg helps monitor the hydrogen fueling station and manage a project focused on improving the quality of electricity on mini-grids in Bhutan. Prior to coming to HSU, Meg received a BS in Environmental Studies from Warren Wilson College and has worked in the field in a number of different capacities including environmental contaminant and wildlife research, as well as experiential environmental education.

A Quality Assurance Framework for Solar System Installations at Public Facilities in West Africa

Community members around a water pump


Zhigbodo Community Borehole, Niger

The Schatz Center and the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), with support from the World Bank through their Lighting Africa program, are working collaboratively with government partners in Nigeria and Niger to develop a new approach for the procurement, installation, and long-term maintenance of off-grid solar electricity systems at public facilities, such as health clinics, schools, police posts, public offices, and water pumps.

Off-grid solar systems offer the promise of clean, renewable electricity for public facilities. However, historically, there has been a high failure rate for these systems in many countries, often caused by poor quality design and installation, or lack of maintenance and good operational practices following installation even when initially high quality system components are installed.

Students are gathered inside a primary classroom


Primary school classroom in Gwarinpa, Nigeria

The proposed new approach involves the innovative use of digital remote monitoring technology, along with quality standards for equipment, design, and installation, to ensure and verify the ongoing performance of off-grid solar electricity systems. Under such an approach, companies in the off-grid solar sector could enter lease agreements or extended service contracts with government agencies to provide an agreed-upon level of electricity service in return for guaranteed monthly payments. The payments could be designed to cover the capital costs of equipment and installation (or a percentage of these costs), along with the ongoing operation and maintenance costs over the projected system life. By digitally monitoring the performance of the systems, a third-party could verify that the service provider is delivering the agreed electrical service and instruct the government agency to pay the monthly fee. Spreading the cost of the systems over many years and keeping service providers engaged is expected to improve the long-term performance of the systems.

Over the next two years, the proposed approach will be developed, evaluated, and revised through research and deployment of approximately fifteen pilot systems in Nigeria and fifteen pilot systems in Niger. Our main role in this effort is to develop the quality assurance framework that serves as the basis for the approach. This includes determining a standard for service delivery that can be used to verify that the system’s performance matches contractually specified targets. Our staff will conduct site visits, provide technical designs for the thirty pilot systems, and verify system performance for the first six months. Support for this effort is provided by the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa Program.

Jimento Aikhuele takes solar measurements in a schoolyard


Jimento Aikhuele takes solar measurements in a schoolyard

A car is parked under a solar array


Working solar installation in Nasarawa, Nigeria

To kickoff the project this September, three team members visited sites in Niger and Nigeria to gather initial information about health clinics, schools and other public facilities. Chris Carlsen, a Center alumna and current consultant, met with officials in Niger and visited several communities to understand the country’s existing infrastructure. Jimento Aikhuele, a Schatz Energy graduate fellow originally from Nigeria, and Olakunle Owoeye, a Center consultant, met Chris in Nigeria to scope out potential sites for pilot installations and learn about the energy needs of the various facilities. The team also visited sites with existing solar installations to gain insight into why well-intentioned solar systems so often fail. Our initial work in the field was fruitful thanks to the indispensable support of ECREEE, the Ministries of Energy, Health and Secondary Education of Niger, and the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing of Nigeria.

Back at the Schatz Center, we have been hard at work reviewing existing standards and determining appropriate requirements to include in the quality assurance framework. This work dovetails with projects we’ve conducted in the past, including the ongoing development and co-management of the Lighting Global Quality Assurance program. We are looking forward to heading back into the field to gather more information before finalizing a draft of the framework and providing recommended designs for the pilot installations next spring.

Lighting Global Program Expands to Solar Home System Kits

Since 2008, we at SERC have worked with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Global programs to support the development of the off-grid lighting market. We currently manage the quality assurance program that has tested over 130 pico-solar lighting products, ranging from flashlights to lanterns to multi-light systems, from over 40 different manufacturers.

The Lighting Africa program has been a great success, with nearly eight million quality-verified pico-solar lights having been sold throughout Africa as of December 2014. This has inspired expansion of the effort to India and beyond through the Lighting Asia and Lighting Pacific programs. Bolstered by this success, the Lighting Global program is now focusing further along the electricity access continuum to support products that provide a wider range of energy services, beyond lighting and cellphone charging.

The decreasing costs of solar PV modules, rechargeable batteries, and LEDs have facilitated the development of larger plug-and-play solar home system kits at prices affordable to many in the off-grid market. Additionally, recent efficiency gains in DC appliances, such as reducing the power draw for a 20” color TV from over 20 W to less than 10 W, make it possible to power appliances with lower-cost solar home system kits. In response to these market trends and industry demands, the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program at the World Bank has tasked our team at SERC with expanding the existing test methods and quality assurance framework to cover these larger solar home system kits.

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

The systems covered by this extension will be plug-and-play direct current (DC) solar home system kits that can be installed by typical homeowners without the need to employ a technician. While products and kits with a peak power rating of less than 10 W are tested under the current quality assurance framework, the revised framework will cover kits from 10 W up to 100 W.

Over the past year, our team has worked with researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (ISE) to develop a modified version of the existing quality assurance framework for larger kits. Both of our teams are committed to using the same set of principles to balance affordability, innovation, and rigor in developing standards and test methods for the solar home system market.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

To push forward on the development of the framework, members of the SERC team recently traveled to Freiburg, Germany to meet with our colleagues at Fraunhofer ISE.  We spent a week meeting and working with the team in Germany, and tackled some of the more difficult issues in the quality assurance framework, such as how to reliably measure system performance and assess appliances that are included with the kits.

We are currently pilot testing this extended framework on five solar home system kits and plan to test five more in the coming months. Once we have finalized the test methods, we will submit them for adoption by the International Electrotechnical Commission. Throughout the process, we are relying on stakeholder consultations with manufacturers, development organizations, test labs, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, financial institutions and others to improve the quality assurance framework.

If you are interested in our continued progress on this project, contact us at shs@lightingglobal.org, or visit the Lighting Global stakeholder page.

HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station Hosts First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Commute from the Bay Area

Anand-refueling

Anand Gopal poses with the Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV-adv) that he drove from the Bay Area.

Anand Gopal, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) and former Schatz Energy Fellow, and Elizabeth Pimentel-Gopal, former HSU Assistant Director of Admissions, drove from Berkeley to Arcata to visit friends and family over the second weekend of September. Rather than a mundane weekend trip, theirs was a precedent-setting event; their entire trip was powered by hydrogen fuel.

Their trip represents the first time the HSU Hydrogen Fueling Station has been used to fuel a vehicle commuting to and from the Bay Area aside from the vehicles under test at SERC. Filling the Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid vehicle (FCHV-adv) with hydrogen at 700-bar (10,000 psi) gave the vehicle a range of over 285 miles and enabled Anand and Elizabeth to complete their return trip to one of the nearest hydrogen stations (located in Richmond and Emeryville). For Anand the event was especially meaningful. During his time at SERC, the HSU student team that he advised won an international hydrogen energy design competition in 2005, which inspired the development of the HSU hydrogen station.

Renewable Energy Mini-Grids

Over the past year, SERC has been collaborating on the Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Improved Energy Access project with researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at University of California at Berkeley, Prayas Energy Group and Palang Thai. These efforts are in support of the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) initiative associated with the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Renewable energy-based mini-grids offer a significant opportunity to increase access to reliable electricity services for rural populations throughout the developing world. A mini-grid is a village-scale electrical distribution system served by an isolated generator of up to a few hundred kW in capacity. Power on these grids is often provided by diesel generators, but can be supplied by local, renewable resources such as microhydro, solar, biomass or wind. Mini-grids offer an intermediate solution between stand-alone individual home power systems and main grid connection, and often prove to be more cost-effective and beneficial to the community than either of those alternatives.

Our team recently produced three documents to help inform delegates participating in the Mini-Grid Development roundtable discussion at the fourth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM4) in New Delhi in April. CEM4 brought together energy ministers from 23 of the world’s leading economies, along with business leaders, NGOs and academia to discuss policies, technologies, investment, and skills needed to achieve the CEM’s goal of “accelerating the transition to a global clean energy economy.” Our team’s contributions included:

A biomass mini-grid in India.

A biomass mini-grid in India.

 

SolarMiniGridJP

A solar mini-grid in India.

  • Sustainable Development of Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Energy Access: A Framework for Policy Design, which provides a review and critique of mini-grid policies from several countries and offers recommendations for national policy design to support the development of mini-grids.
  • A Guidebook on Grid Interconnection and Islanded Operation of Mini-Grid Power Systems Up to 200 kW, which is intended to help meet the widespread need for guidance, standards, and procedures for interconnecting mini-grids with the central electric grid as rural electrification advances in developing countries.
  • Review of Strategies and Technologies for Demand-Side Management on Isolated Mini-Grids, which discusses different measures available to help with load management on isolated mini-grids.

These documents are available on the SERC website at www.schatzlab.org/projects/developingworld/minigrids.html.

Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards

SERC’s yearlong effort coordinating the Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards culminated in the announcement of the award winners at the 3rd International Off-grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair in Dakar, Senegal in November. This marks the second time SERC has led the Outstanding Product Awards effort; the first was at its inception in 2010. Lighting Global, which is closely associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The Outstanding Product Awards recognize exceptional off-grid lighting products and seek to encourage the development of quality, affordable lights for the estimated 1.6 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity.  Providing access to quality lighting enables people to reduce their use of expensive fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps, which in turn lowers their exposure to air pollutants, minimizes fire hazards and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.

Lighting manufacturers entered 25 different products in this year’s competition.  Products were divided into three price-based categories: ‘Budget’ products under $30; ‘Mid-range’ products between $30-$72; and ‘Premium’ products from $72-$135.

An initial screening based on preliminary tests narrowed the candidates down to 16 finalists.  All award finalists underwent a rigorous assessment process involving detailed laboratory testing, evaluation by people living in off-grid areas of Senegal, Kenya, and India, and final judging by a panel of experts. The entire process took over seven months to complete and not only informed the judges, but also provided valuable feedback in the form of test reports and end-user evaluations to the lighting manufacturers.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

SERC played a substantive role in all phases of the assessment.  SERC’s lighting test lab coordinated with the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (FISE) to test the technical performance of the finalist lamps according to the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods.

Concurrently, SERC team members and SERC alum Jennifer Tracy coordinated the field evaluations in which 18 focus groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal provided end-user perspectives about the products. Each focus group member was able to try out one of the candidate lamps in their home for 1-2 weeks. Following the in-home trials, each group met for a feedback session in which participants reported on and demonstrated their lamps as part of a group discussion. This field feedback was a key part of the judging process.

Finally, SERC served as part of the expert judging panel, which also included experts from the UN Foundation, the German development agency GIZ, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. In making their final selections, the judges considered overall design, technical performance, environmental impacts, truth in advertising, ease of use, special features such as mobile phone charging, end-user perspectives and price.

Several members of SERC’s lighting lab team attended the awards ceremony in Senegal and were thrilled to congratulate the winning manufacturers. All the winning lamps (see photo, below), aside from the winner in the budget category, offer the ability to charge a cell phone in addition to providing high-quality lighting service. The awards ceremony and gala dinner were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP). Visit the conference website for a list of product award winners and to view photos from the event.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Following the excitement of the Outstanding Product Awards, SERC’s off-grid lighting team continues to work with the Lighting Global program to promote clean off-grid lighting in the developing world. In the coming months, SERC and the Lighting Global team will expand their efforts beyond Africa to support quality assurance activities related to the IFC’s Lighting Asia program, which launched activities in India in May of 2012 and is planning future work in additional countries including Bangladesh.

GridShare Success in Bhutan

We’re excited to report on the successful installation of GridShares on a small microhydro mini-grid in Bhutan. In our Summer 2011 newsletter, we wrote about our upcoming fieldwork in the Bhutanese village of Rukubji, and we can now share our results and the feedback we’ve received from the village. The GridShare is a demand-side management device designed by our group of HSU students and advisors and is intended to reduce the occurrence of brownouts on power-limited mini-grids. The GridShare device encourages load-shifting in two ways: by using red and green LED lights to indicate the state of the grid to the user and by preventing residents from using large appliances, like rice cookers and water boilers, during brownouts.  After winning a grant to support the project through the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Contest in 2010, we improved upon our original prototype and tested the GridShare devices in a village-scale pilot installation in Rukubji, Bhutan.

View of Rukubji, Bhutan           A Bhutan Power Corporation technician installs a GridShare           Red and green indicator lights and how the system works signage
Left to right: The main village of Rukubji is located in the center of Bhutan in Himalayan Asia. BPC electrician Sangay Phuentsho installs a GridShare circuit near the electricity meter on the outside of a home near Rukubji, while the red and green indicator lights are installed inside the house near the cooking appliances.

Rukubji, a village of approximately 90 households connected to a 40 kW-rated microhydro system, suffered from daily brownouts and served as an excellent location to evaluate the potential of the GridShare technology to reduce brownouts in village scale renewable energy systems. To perform the pilot installation, our team, with the help of many volunteers, designed, tested and manufactured 120 GridShare devices here at SERC. In collaboration with the Bhutan Power Corporation and the Department of Energy of Bhutan, we installed 90 devices in Rukubji and the surrounding villages of Sangdo, Tsenpokto and Bumiloo in June of 2011.

We assessed the GridShare installation with three main methods: electrical data logging, household surveys and community meetings. We have used HOBO data loggers to continuously monitor the current and voltage of the system since June of 2010, which provides us a year of data before and after the GridShare installation. Household surveys were conducted before the installation and again in January of 2012 to assess the effectiveness and reliability of the GridShares and the degree of user satisfaction. Community meetings before and after the installation offered opportunities to discuss the GridShare and receive system feedback.

We were thrilled when the community of Rukubji decided by consensus to keep the GridShares installed and the Bhutan Power Corporation agreed to continue to support the effort. Though several improvements to the design and implementation strategy would be useful before performing additional installations, this pilot project provides evidence that user-interactive demand-side management strategies, such as the GridShare, are effective at reducing brownouts on mini-grids.

To learn more about the GridShare project in Bhutan visit www.schatzlab.org/projects/developingworld/gridshare.html.

Installing data loggers           Meeting with community members           Community meeting where decision was made to keep GridShare installations
Left to right: The three main methods of evaluation of the GridShare project included electrical data logging, household surveys and community meetings.

Summer Field Season in Kenya

As the spring semester drew to a close the signs of summer crept in:  fewer cars parked on the streets of Arcata, foggy mornings, and SERC staff packing for field work on our international projects.  In early June, we embarked on a trip to Kenya to support our ongoing work with the World Bank / IFC Lighting Africa program, which supports the growing market for clean, efficient, affordable solar lighting in the developing world.

Conducting Product Awards Focus Groups

2012 marks the second time that SERC is coordinating an Outstanding Product Awards Competition for Off-grid Lighting (the first was in 2010).  The awards will be given in November in Dakar, Senegal.  Eighteen groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal have been selected as field judges and their feedback is a key part of the judging process.  The field judges participate in an initial focus group, and then they try out a product in their home for about a week.  Following the in-home trial, they report back at a final focus group.  The judges in Kenya shared their enthusiasm for the project by welcoming us with songs (that we couldn’t understand well) and dance (that was universally understood) to the initial focus groups.  So far, the process has been a success.  We are coordinating the judging in Kenya along with SERC alum Jennifer Tracy, who is leading the overall field judging process.  SERC Engineer Brendon Mendonca is helping coordinate the judging in India, and Chris Carlsen (another SERC alum) is helping in Senegal.

Research assistant Daniel Koech surveys a shop in Kericho.

Surveying the Market for Off-grid Lighting

In between focus groups, we led a survey of shops that sell off-grid lighting products in three Kenyan towns: Kericho, Brooke, and Talek.  This study is an update to a survey that was completed in 2009.  The new survey shows how the market has changed, and preliminary results suggest that many more good quality, affordable lighting products are available today than were three years ago.

Participants in the “train the trainer” session held at the University of Nairobi.

Training Off-grid Lighting Technicians

As the market for good quality off-grid lighting grows, it is inevitable that some will break, but hopefully not too many.  To help ensure that people with broken lights do not slide back to dirty, expensive, unsafe kerosene lighting, it is critical that service and maintenance technicians are able to fix their lights.  Lighting Africa has begun to train technicians to do just this, and plans to hold a number of trainings over the next year in Kenya.  On June 13, we led a “train the trainer” session to build training capacity that Lighting Africa can deploy.  We prepared for the session by developing a comprehensive training package based on the initial trainings held by Lighting Africa.

A shopkeeper in Talek (100 km off the grid) displays two off-grid lighting products he offers for sale. The one on the right (Sun KingTM) has been tested and met Lighting Africa’s Quality Standards.

Looking Forward

These three activities highlight SERC’s diverse engagement in clean off-grid lighting in the developing world.  Our team’s reach goes from the test lab downstairs at SERC in Arcata all the way to the sitting rooms of off-grid homes in Kenya.  Looking forward we will continue to expand our activities with Lighting Africa, and we are in the early process of similar engagement in India.  We’ll keep you apprised of our continued off-grid lighting work in future posts.

HSU Students Install GridShare Devices in Bhutan

Gridshare Team in Bhutan

Chhimi Dorji (left), Nathan Chase, and Meg Harper present GridShare education and outreach to Rukubji schoolchildren. Photo credit Arne Jacobson.

For over two years, a dedicated group of HSU students and advisors has been working on the design of a “GridShare” device intended to reduce the occurrence of brownouts on power-limited mini-electric grids. Last year, after winning a grant through the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Contest, three of us traveled to Bhutan to assess the village of Rukubji as a site to perform a pilot installation of our GridShares.

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Testing the Performance of a New Electrolysis Cell Stack

Electrolysis Cell

The new cell stack in place inside the HOGEN® electrolyzer (Photo credit SERC).

At last spring’s National Hydrogen Association (NHA) conference, graduate research assistant Andrea Allen reported on the performance and efficiency of our hydrogen fueling station over its first full year of operation. During the conference, SERC director Peter Lehman and Andrea discussed the efficiency of the electrolyzer with representatives from Proton Energy Systems, the unit’s manufacturer. With the desire to field test their new product, Proton offered to replace the current electrolyzer cell stack with a newer developmental model, designed for higher efficiency and lower cost. This new cell stack uses a bipolar plate design with a 70% part count reduction. Fewer parts result in an overall reduction in the interfacial resistances of the cell stack, which leads to better performance. In addition to replacing the electrolyzer cell stack, Proton recommended installing a valve to partially bypass the heat exchanger, allowing the electrolyzer to run at a higher temperature, which further increases the efficiency.

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